Turning your negative thinking into positive thinking

Have you ever thought whether we try too hard to be happy? Is it more difficult to live a meaningful life because we are constantly pursuing the ultimate goal of happiness?

Oliver Burkeman’s book, The Antidote, tackles these questions head on and offers us a ‘negative path’ to happiness. Here are four ways of looking differently at happiness and seeing the positive in the negative:

1. Accommodate negative thoughts

Burkeman’s premise is that our Western culture leans strongly towards positivity but that this way of thinking does not necessarily make us happy. There is plenty of psychological evidence to suggest that trying to make yourself think positive thoughts can leave you feeling worse. He argues that if you’re constantly trying to reach this ‘right’ emotional state, you are distracted from concentrating on those tasks that really matter.

Instead of focusing on the relentless positivity of a situation, how about learning to harness the more negative emotions – those of insecurity, pessimism and failure?

2. Don’t go goal crazy

There is a place for goals in our business as well as personal lives, but purely concentrating on fulfilling them can lead to pitfalls and wrong turns. Many of us can cite examples of people we know who have pursued one goal to the detriment of others around them. If we have rigid plans for the future, we may miss opportunities in other areas when they come knocking.

A softer approach to goal setting can be to focus on ‘process’ goals instead of ‘outcome’ goals. So instead of aiming for the skies and saying ‘I’ll write a book’, set step-by-step goals so you spend an hour writing every day.

3. Live with insecurity

Life has a way of dealing us setbacks and insecurities that are unplanned and which we are unable to predict. In contrast to those parts of the world where poverty compels the population to find ways of living with the permanent insecurity of their existence, western cultures often seem bogged down with the problems of the ‘wealthier’ – such as house prices, salary raises, mental health issues. Burkeman asks us instead to realise that our lives are, in different ways, suffused with insecurity and that ultimately happiness cannot be found in acquiring that bigger house or higher salary.

4. Challenge your perspective

Burkeman suggests trying to deliberate embarrass yourself in public in order to transform your perspective of uncertain situations. You might not want to go as far as that but there is an alternative way of embracing the challenge. Pick a project you have been procrastinating on, decide on a useful next action, then, crucially, don’t ignore the associated feelings of reluctance or uncertainty. Acknowledge them and then go ahead and act anyway. Getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable is a more powerful emotion than trying to always stay positive.

Many thanks to Dan Pink’s blog for inspiration.

Contact us on 01865 881056 or email us at info@leaderslab.co.uk if you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this post.